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Category Archives: Forensic History

Does “Body Recognition” Compare With DNA?

Does “Body Recognition” Compare With DNA?

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The forensic anatomy researchers at the University of Adelaide think this just might be the case. If so, this technique might be useful in identifying criminals and missing persons from photos and videos where facial features aren’t clearly shown.

Anthropomorphic measurements for identification aren’t new. In fact, they are over 100 years old. One of the pioneers in this endeavor was Alphonse Bertillon who devised a system hat became known as Bertillonage. It was the standard until fingerprints proved more reliable and discriminatory.

Alphonse Bertillon

Alphonse Bertillon

From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

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ANTHROPOMETRY AND BERTILLONAGE

Anthropometry (anthrop means “human”; metry means “to measure”) is defined as the study of human body measurements for use in anthropological classification and comparison. Simply put, it is the making of body measurements in order to compare individuals with each other.

Using anthropometry, French police officer Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) developed the first truly organized system for identifying individuals in 1882.

Believing that the human skeleton did not change in size from about age twenty until death and that each person’s measurements were unique, he created a system of body measurements that became known as bertillonage.

According to Bertillon, the odds of two people having the same bertillonage

measurements were 286 million to one. This belief led Bertillon to state that all people could be distinguished from one another by key measurements, such as height, seated height from head to seat, length and width of the head, right ear length, left little finger length, and width of the cheeks, among others. His greatest triumph came in February 1883, when he measured a thief named Dupont and compared his profile against his files of known criminals. He found that Dupont’s measurements matched a man named Martin. Dupont ultimately confessed that he was indeed Martin.

For many years, this system was accepted by many jurisdictions, but by the dawn of the twentieth century cracks began to appear. The measurements were inexact and subject to variation, depending upon who made them. And because the measurements in two people who were of the same size, weight, and body type varied by fractions of a centimeter, flaws quickly appeared and the system was soon discontinued. Its death knell tolled with the famous Will West case.

FORENSIC CASE FILES: THE WILL WEST CASE

Though landmark in its importance, this case was an odd comical coincidence.

On May 1, 1903, Will West came to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. The records

clerk apparently thought that the man looked familiar, but the new inmate denied ever having been in the prison before. As part of his intake examination, anthropometry was performed and officials were surprised to find that Will’s measurements exactly matched those of William West, another inmate at Leavenworth. The two men even looked eerily similar as if they were twins.

They were brought together into the same room, but each stated that they were not brothers. Fingerprints were then used to distinguish between the two Wills after which Leavenworth immediately dumped anthropometry and switched to a fingerprint-based system for identifying prisoners. New York’s Sing Sing prison followed a month later.

But was the similarity between Will and William West just a bizarre coincidence?

Not really. A report in the Journal of Police Science and Administration in 1980 revealed that the two actually were identical twins. They possessed many fingerprint similarities, nearly identical ear configurations (unusual in any circumstance except with identical twins), and each of the men wrote letters to the same brother, same five sisters, and same Uncle George. So, even though the brothers denied it, it seemed that they were related after all.

In 2010 and also in 2012, I posted on Bertillon’s technique:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/fingerprints-and-the-forensic-world-part-2/

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/handprints-and-stature-whats-old-is-now-new/

 

Crime and Science Radio: Watching the Detectives: Investigative Journalism and Forensic Science: An Interview with Douglas Starr

Killer of Shepards

BIO: Douglas Starr is co-director of the graduate Program in Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University.

His most recent book, The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science, tells the story of the 19th century pioneers of forensic science and the notorious serial killer who was caught and convicted with their new scientific techniques. Published in several languages, the book won Gold Dagger award in the U.K., was a finalist for the Edgar Allen Poe award in the U.S., and was an “Editor’s Choice” in the New York Times Book Review.

Starr’s previous book, BLOOD: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce, tells the four-century saga of how human blood became a commodity -– from the first experimental transfusions in the 17th century, through the collection and mobilization of blood in modern wars, to a tragic denouement during the AIDS epidemic. The book was published in seven languages, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (science and technology category) and was named to the “Best Books of the Year” lists of Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal. A PBS series based on the book, Red Gold, aired on more than 300 PBS stations in the U.S. and internationally.

Starr’s writings about science, medicine, public health and the environment have appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Discover, The New Republic, Science, Smithsonian, Public Television, National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, The Christian Science Monitor, Boston Sunday Globe Magazine and other media outlets.

Prof. Starr lectures on the subjects of his books and on broader questions of science in the mass media, science and ethics, and the history of science. He has appeared as a commentator on ABC’s Nightline, the BBC, CNN and NPR.  He has lectured at venues as diverse as Harvard Medical School, Yale Medical School, the Royal College of Physicians in London, the U.S. Department of Justice; and at book festivals, corporate functions and scientific and public health colloquia in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/12/14/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-douglas-starr

LINKS:

Douglas Starr Website: http://douglasstarr.com

Articles by Douglas Starr: http://douglasstarr.com/writing-articles/

The Interview by Douglas Starr: http://douglasstarr.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/THE-INTERVIEW.pdf

 

Book Review: Silent Witnesses by Nigel McCrery

SW Cover

Chicago Review Press

September 1, 2014

ISBN-10: 1613730020

ISBN-13: 978-1613730027

288 pages

. . . an easily accessible and well-written primer on the history of forensic science

Silent Witnesses is an easily accessible and well-written primer on the history of forensic science. It reads like a work of fiction but offers the reader a clear history of many of the most important advances in forensic investigative techniques. The topics are covered in chapters titled: Identity, Ballistics, Blood, Trace Evidence, The Body, Poisons, and DNA. Each subject is reviewed chronologically and numerous milestone cases in the development and growth of forensic science are presented.

For example, in the Identity chapter, the war between Alphonse Bertillon and his anthropometric ID system known as “bertillonage” and those who favored fingerprinting as the gold standard for identification of an individual is documented. In Blood, the development of the ABO blood typing system is well presented as well as the methods for identifying a stain as blood and determining that it is human and not animal, both extremely important in crimes where blood is shed. In Trace Evidence, the discovery and development of the microscope as a forensic tool is covered in great detail. Poisons have been around almost as long as civilization and in the chapter Poisons this long and sordid history is chronicled as are the steps in the creation of the fascinating field of forensic toxicology, including the development of the famous Marsh and Reinsch tests for identifying the “inheritance powder” arsenic.

Perhaps the most enjoyable parts of Silent Witnesses are the discussions of famous cases that helped develop forensic science as a viable entity. Silent Witnesses opens with the famous Colin Pitchfork case—-the first time DNA profiling was used to solve a murder. Other seminal cases include: the Francisca Rojas case (the first time fingerprints solved a murder); the St. Valentine’s Day massacre (which put firearm’s examinations in the public eye); the Sam Sheppard case (where blood spatter analysis proved crucial in the retrial of the famous physician); the Parkman-Webster case (one of the first to employ dental examinations to identify a partially destroyed corpse); the Murder at the Crumbles case (involving the great medical detective Sir Bernard Spilsbury and leading to the creation of the police officer’s “murder bag”); the more modern “radiological” poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko; and many more that will keep the reader enthralled.

Silent Witnesses is a delightful journey through the evolution of forensic science and is a very useful introduction to the subject. Highly recommended.

Originally posted at NY Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/silent-witnesses-often-gruesome-always-fascinating-history-forensic-science

 

Jack The Ripper Identified?

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A new book titled Naming Jack The Ripper by Russell Edwards presents information that the author feels solves the famous Jack The Ripper case. The five murder-mutilations that occurred in London’s East End during 1888 have baffled criminologists for over a century. Several suspects have been identified but none have been proven to be the real Ripper. So who is Jack? According to Edwards, it’s Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant who had “mental issues,” was 23 years old at the time of the killings, and who ultimately died in an insane asylum many years later at the age of 53. He never confessed or anything convenient like that, but he has long been one to the prime suspects.

So is he really Jack? Maybe. Here are some articles. Make up your own mind.

Daily Mail UK: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2746321/Jack-Ripper-unmasked-How-amateur-sleuth-used-DNA-breakthrough-identify-Britains-notorious-criminal-126-years-string-terrible-murders.html

Independent UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/has-jack-the-rippers-identity-really-been-revealed-using-dna-evidence-9717036.html

Mirror UK: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jack-ripper-murder-mystery-solved-4177665

 

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Guest Blogger: Daphne Holmes: How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

DNA

 

How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

The impetus for determining the paternity of a child likely dates back to the most primitive tribal cultures. Particularly in patriarchal cultures where females were regarded as the property of males, it was deemed important to ensure that a man’s “property” had not been shared, and that the virtue of the female was beyond question. As societies became more sophisticated, the need to establish paternity became as much an economic issue as a moral one. In modern cultures, paternity testing is used primarily to establish whether or not a man is responsible for providing financial support to a child, as well as determining whether the child carries any of the father’s genetic predispositions for health challenges.

Physical appearance – In more primitive cultures (some of which continue to flourish), the objectives behind determining the paternity of a child were culturally and/or emotionally based. If a child was born who lacked identifying characteristics of either parent, it was frequently assumed that the father was someone other than the woman’s mate. The repercussions to the mother were quite severe, often culminating in her death. Unfortunately – especially for the women – the comparison of obvious physical traits was highly subjective, and many women suffered dire consequences, even if their husband/mate was indeed the biological father.

Blood typing – With the early 20th century discovery that different individuals had different blood types, and the recognition in the 1920s that those blood types were genetically inherited, a more accurate means of determining paternity came into common use. It was discovered that by comparing the parents’ blood types, it was possible to determine the most likely blood type of the child. While this was admittedly a step above the “he has his father’s eyes” paternity test, it was still only about 30% accurate.

Serological testing – It was discovered in the 1930s that specific proteins not considered during blood typing could establish the presence of genetically inherited antigens that would more accurately identify the child’s biological father. Unfortunately, serological testing only improved the accuracy of paternity testing to about 40%. Hardly conclusive evidence.

Tissue typing – In the 1970s, the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) was discovered in abundance within white blood cells. When samples of this genetically inherited antigen taken from the mother and child were compared to the sample taken from the father, paternity could be established with roughly 80% accuracy. While this was a significant improvement over previous methods, the collection procedure itself was unpleasant, and the size of the sample required made it hazardous to the child, particularly if the child was less than six months old. Obviously, more work needed to be done.

DNA testing (RFLP) – In the 1980s, the technique called restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) was discovered that looked at a significantly wider spectrum of variables in the blood than had been analyzed with earlier techniques. It was discovered that the offspring of two parents would have half the unique characteristics of each parent. This technique elevated the accuracy of paternity testing to the level of statistical certainty. Unfortunately, the amount of blood required for accurate sampling was, like tissue sampling, large, posing potential problems for the child. In addition, the potential for genetic mutations in the child could render a false negative, indicating that neither the woman or the man was the child’s biological parents. For these reasons, RFLP testing has been all but abandoned.

DNA Testing (PCR) – By the 1990s, the RFLP testing was replaced by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. This technique involves the computerized replication of DNA collected from even a minuscule sample that is collected anywhere on the individual’s body, then comparing the subjects’ profiles. In addition to requiring a very small sample (typically via an oral swab), the subject is not submitted to discomfort as in earlier test techniques, and the computerized analysis takes far less time, while still providing accuracy at the level of statistical certainty, 99.99%.

Author: Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from www.ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.

 

 

Cat DNA Solves Another Homicide

TINKER

TINKER

 

Tinker doesn’t look like a snitch. But then again, neither did Snowball. Snowball is a very famous cat. It was Snowball’s DNA that led to the solution of a 1994 murder and it represented the first time cat DNA had been used to solve a crime.

From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

FORENSIC CASE FILES: SNOWBALL THE CAT

In 1994, Shirley Duguay of Prince Edward Island disappeared. A few days later her corpse was discovered in a shallow grave along with a leather jacket, which was soaked with her blood and dotted with white cat hairs. Her estranged husband, Douglas Beamish, owned a white cat named Snowball. DNA in blood taken from Snowball matched that of the cat hairs found at the burial site, proving that those hairs came from Snowball and no other white cat. Beamish was convicted, marking this case the first time that animal DNA was used to gain a conviction.

Tinker has now followed suit in a very interesting case from Britain.

 

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The Writers Forensics Blog: 100 Top Websites to Bookmark

The crew over at FornesicScienceDegrees.org have listed The Writers Forensics Blog as one of their Top 100 Websites to Bookmark, which they describe as a “list of great sites to present practical, real-world information on the subject.” Many great sources here.

Thanks. I’m flattered.

 

 
 
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